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It’s not just black and white: Forgiveness in Long Night’s Journey into Day

Long Night’s journey into day is a story of truth, social justice, reconciliation, and undoubtedly forgiveness. For me, watching this documentary and seeing the awful things done and the pain the families faced was heartbreaking. I was angry watching the men put on trial for the things they did, as well as seeing the mothers wail and cry over their dead sons. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have the person that killed one of your family members sitting right in front of you asking to be set free. Although this film made me angry and heartbroken, it also gave me the ability to rethink the wrongs of others and my thoughts on vengeance. The families in this film were able to face the truth, the people who hurt them, and heal from it.

In the books we’ve been reading (Eichmann In Jerusalem, Death and the Maiden, etc.), we were faced with the ideas of revenge and retributive justice, but none of them mentioned forgiveness or restoration. Where retributive justice can be effective, I think letting the past be the past and restoring justice can build a stronger community. We want those who hurt us to pay but this documentary shows that forgiveness is the first step for healing and moving on. At the end of the documentary, one of the mothers who was talking to her son’s killer said, “forgive those who have sinned against you,” something this film has highlighted and something everyone can take notes on. 

Maternal Grief and the Role it Plays in Long Night’s Journey Into Day

In this film, the grief of mothers seems to take on a large portion of what the audience sees. This grief that the mothers express is different and varies from mother to mother. In a sense, it is a universal grief that all of the mothers who lost their children experience as whole, but these ways of grieving are different for each and every mother. These women are seen grappling and coming to terms with knowing the perpetrators of the killing of their sons. One woman in the crowd at the trial is struck by the footage of seeing her own son’s death and goes into complete hysterics. She cannot believe she is watching the life of her own child be taken away right before her eyes. She feels this sorrow and loss intensely and shows that intensity with her frantic and emotional state. Not opposed to this, but in a different setting, other mothers of the men who were shot sit down with the cop who took part in killing their sons and ask him questions. They are sad and angry, but they are also willing to forgive. This willingness to forgive the man who played a role in the death of their sons shows the importance of allowing another man the same age as their sons live out his life. He sacrificed telling the truth and telling the real story to these women and for that reason it seems they do not hate him. Hate is not in these mother’s hearts. Their hearts are full of sorrow, confusion, loss, and this element of forgiveness. These women are not vengeful toward a man they would have a right to be vengeful against. This forgiveness they have for him shows the power of motherhood and how they can allow themselves to come to terms and not hold on to a feeling of hatred and anger. This forgiveness shows courageousness from these mothers who are grieving.

Long Night’s Journey Into Day – Grief, Forgiveness, and Motherhood

“Long Night’s Journey Into Day” is a film about the racial and political violence in South Africa during its period of apartheid rule. The film showed a few of the many horrifying cases of murder that occurred during this time. Some cases were later brought forth in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee – which was a way for perpetrators to confess to the families and friends of their victims, and ask for amnesty. One of the main purposes of the TRC was to reveal South Africa’s dark past, rather than bury it. 

The film started off with the case of Amy Biehl, a young American girl, who was studying and reporting on the racial divide and apartheid in South Africa. During her time in Cape Town, she was brutally murdered by a black mob. This case really stuck out to me for many reasons. One being how her parents reacted to this tragedy. I thought it was borderline crazy, yet so inspiring that her parents actually supported and pushed for the TRC to grant the murderers of Amy amnesty. The scene where Amy’s parents visited the homes of one of the perpetrator’s mothers was shocking as well – that they could feel compassion for the mother of a man who killed their daughter, and were able to visit and have a conversation with her. Another aspect of that story that stuck out to me was when one of her murderers was interviewed and felt a great deal of remorse after hearing Amy’s parents speak about their daughter at trial. Hearing about Amy’s personality and passions and her mission in South Africa really humanized her and impacted everyone. Another scene in particular that was extremely upsetting to watch was when one of the mothers of another victim started to scream and cry during the trial of his murderer. It made me so upset to the point of discomfort – like I had no place watching this mother’s raw pain when seeing and hearing about the death of her son. Dr. Gulick truly put it best in today’s class discussion – that the feeling of discomfort is similar to seeing someone naked. It was a very impactful scene, I could see other women sitting in the audience at the trial who were so moved that they too were crying. 

It is clear that one main focal point of the film was on the mothers of the victims. Although they all handled grief in different ways, something that was somewhat common among all of them was their ability to forgive. The mothers were able to sit down with the perpetrators and express their sadness and confusion for the crime, but also forgive them for their actions. One mother was talking to the black police officer who killed her son, and stated that as upset as she is, she must forgive him in order to heal and move forward. “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” was very eye-opening for me and I honestly can’t believe I hadn’t heard more about it before – it was stated that South Africa had the most notorious form of racial domination since Nazi Germany, and I think it is definitely a part of history that needs to be talked about more. 

Emotional Vacancy

I went into this film not knowing what to expect and not really wanting to watch it. However, that quickly changed after the first 15 minutes of watching. All four of the stories caught my interest, but the last story really piqued my interest. There is one situation that I was able to pick out from the last story. This is how Mbelo was able to deal with killing the young men in the “Guguletu 7” and not feel anything afterwards.

Constable Mbelo was one of the 25+ officers, and one of the 3 black officers that were involved in this murder. This was interesting in two ways, one being the fact that there were 3 black men involved, and two being the fact that he was the only of the 3 to come forward and ask for amnesty. My first thought was, “Why would you kill your own people?” This was the same question one of the mothers asked him. From the mothers’ point of view, he had no answer. But, from his jobs point of view, he was able to give an answer that was very unempathetic for the mothers to hear.

Mbelo mentions that he and Bellingan were not there on the same mission, and this was very true. He has to be able to face his brothers and sisters after killing their children. He says that he was following orders and what he did was not a personal matter. But how can you set up, and aid in the killing of 7 young men who are also black? Yes, I understand that he had an order, and was obligated to fulfill it, but how were you able to do this deed, or kill people period, with no type of emotion? I was not shocked that he was granted amnesty, but I still can help but wonder if deep down, he still has no emotion for what he did.

Forgiveness, Remorse, and Justice in Long Night’s Journey Into Day

The film Long Night’s Journey Into Day features four stories of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from those seeking amnesty for the crimes they have committed during apartheid in South Africa. Amnesty would be considered in exchange for the truth. Granting such pardons requires forgiveness, which is a main theme throughout the film.

The first story featured in the film greatly exemplifies the theme of forgiveness. This story in particular made headlines around the world: American exchange student, Amy Biehl, was killed in a mob by three South African men. The men claimed to be motivated by the political tensions that were undergoing in the township at the time. The killing of her “exposed both our anger and the conditions under which we lived. Because if we had been living reasonably we would not have killed her.” When is it permissible to justify murder with anger? It is still wrong. However, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated that they would consider granting amnesty to those who tell the truth, and the men do provide the truth.

The men and their families continued to express their remorse and to request amnesty for the murder of Biehl. What was extremely significant about this case was that the parents of the victim reached out and provided support to the mother of one of the murderers. After expressing her remorse to the victim’s grieving family, the mother was visited by Biehl’s parents, who ensured her that they would not oppose her son’s application to be freed from jail. Is it fair that offering remorse can allow someone to be forgiven and pardoned for their crimes?

The parents of Amy Biehl are unique in the way that they are so forgiving despite the major pain and suffering they had to experience. The story of her murder reveals that remorse and forgiveness have the ability to impact the outcome of a legal case.